The ability to poach RFA’s from cash-strapped and cap-maxed teams is one of the most underused tools in the General Manager’s toolbox. Here are five players to make them reconsider:
Brandon Saad should top every General Manager’s list of off-season targets. The 22-year-old left-winger has 126 points in 208 NHL games and has already proven he is invaluable to the Blackhawks. Best described as Marian Hossa-lite, Saad is a dynamic two-way winger whose offensive upside is only second to his defensive prowess. His 53.79 CF% ranks fifth on the Blackhawks, but it’s the second lowest total of his career. If you average out his numbers over the last three seasons Saad ranks third among his teammates, behind only Toews and Hossa. Puck possession isn’t his only skill. Offensively Saad and Hossa couldn’t be closer; over the past three years Hossa has just 3 more points than Saad at even-strength. What really stands out, is his ability to draw penalties. It’s one of the most under-rated skills a player can possess, and Brandon Saad is very good at it. Over the past 3 years Saad has a +35 penalty differential, good for sixth in the league. Saad is a young, talented winger, coming into his prime, on a team that is struggling for cap space; it only makes sense to give the Blackhawks an offer sheet for him. In case none of that has you convinced, he can also do this.
The Blackhawks aren’t the only cash-strapped team with hidden gems. Dougie Hamilton has been the lifeblood of the Bruins d-corps for the past couple years and at just 21 years old the Toronto native has a bright future ahead. The right-handed defenceman burst on to the NHL scene in 2012-2013 and has since recorded 83 points in 178 games. Over the past three years, he leads all Bruins defenceman in CF% with a sterling 55.95%, and it’s not due to deployment or competition either. Hamilton was handed the third toughest deployments this season for the Bruins against the fourth toughest competition. Not only does Hamilton outclass his peers on the blueline, the young defender is the fourth best possession player, relative to the rest of him team. His betters? Only the best possession player in the world Patrice Bergeron, his linemate Brad Marchand, and Reilly Smith. While Hamilton is without doubt the best defender on the Bruins, his speed and great release make him a threat on both ends of the ice (see below). With just under $5 million in cap space and a handful of contracts to resign this off-season Hamilton should be the Bruins top priority, but the right offer could see him dressed in something other than black and gold.
It would be a shame to break up the best named line in the NHL, but for Tyler Toffoli, GM’s should make an exception. He may only have been in the league for two years but the 23-year-old has already proven he deserves to be in any team’s top six. At even-strength Toffoli is the Kings fourth highest scorer, and sits second in CF%. It’s not just a product of his environment either. Toffoli also boasts the second highest CF Rel% on the team. Although his scoring was inconsistent over the course of the 2014-2015 season Toffoli has a proven track record in Juniors posting 100+ point seasons twice with the Ottawa 67’s and maintaining roughly 1.0 ppg in the AHL. If there is one fault with Toffoli’s dazzling record it’s that he gets easier deployments than his teammates, but with his track record it’s only a matter of time before he is dominating the competition with more difficult zone-starts.
Mark Stone is the least experienced member on our list of off-season targets, but that doesn’t make him any less valuable. The Calder Trophy finalist recorded 64 points in 80 games this season, tied for second on the Senators. Not only that but Stone is tied for the league lead in takeaways. As for possession metrics Stone leads all Senators forwards in CF% at 51.84% and in CF Rel%, improving his team when he’s on the ice by 2.16%. What adds to Stone’s impressive resume is that he accomplishes all of this while being one of the few remaining true power forwards. Listed at 6’3″, 200 lbs Mark Stone uses every inch of his formidable size to power his way towards the net, win board battles and cause general mayhem.
Mark Stone isn’t the only Senator on this list. Thanks to a tight internal budget and a boatload of free agent signings to take care of this off-season the Senators are prime targets for other GM’s to offer sheet, and if you’re looking for a potential first line center, Mika Zibanejad is your guy. At just 22 years old, Zibanejad is coming off his most productive season in the NHL, recording 46 points in 80 games. What’s more impressive though is that for most of the season he took over the role of first-line center from Kyle Turris. Sitting between Mike Hoffman and Bobby Ryan, Zibanejad solidified his future as a 1C in the NHL. Although his possession numbers weren’t anything to write home about this season (49.59 CF%, -0.88 CF Rel%), in the past he has been break even, posting a 51.6 CF% over the past 3 seasons. Where Zibanejad does excel is his discipline. Over the past three seasons Zibanejad has accrued just 44 penalty minutes and is +25 in penalty differential. He also has a unique talent in the skills competition, where he was 5/10 on the year, finishing 14th in the league. A big reason for that? Shots like this:
Even though this post is titled “5 Players Every GM Should Offer Sheet” I couldn’t resist adding a couple more names to the list. These guys didn’t crack the top five for a couple of reasons, but if your team is in a position to take a few risks the upside of these players could far outweigh the costs. First up is Senators forward Mike Hoffman. In his first full season in the NHL Hoffman had 27 goals and 21 assists. What’s more impressive is 39 of his 48 points came at even strength. So why didn’t he crack the list? Simply put Mike Hoffman is a mystery. The 25-year-old winger has always been a scorer but with just one full NHL season under his belt deciding what to pay for a man who could either be a 30 goal scorer or a flash in the pan isn’t easy.
Next up is Martin Jones. The Kings backup net-minder has averaged a .923 sv% over four years in the AHL, but polarizing NHL seasons have left many wondering what to expect from the 25-year-old tender. History tells us Jones’ .934 sv% in over 19 games in 2013-2014 is more than we should expect from him, but I would guess it’s also closer to his true talent levels than the dismal .906 sv% he posted this past season. Another factor clouding the water here is the fact that Jones plays for the Kings. LA has long been one of the best defensive teams in the league and without substantial evidence to prove how that influences it’s tough to gauge how good Martin Jones really is.
If you want to check out the full list of RFA’s and UFA’s for this off-season click here and let me know who you would target in the comments below.